Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Across the Adult Lifespan: Findings From a Nationally Representative Survey

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2016 Jan;24(1):81-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2015.11.001. Epub 2015 Nov 12.


Objective: There is a dearth of community-based epidemiologic literature that examines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across the adult lifespan. In the current study the authors address this gap by examining the ways in which PTSD differs among young (ages 20-34), middle-aged (ages 35-64), and older (age 65+) adults with respect to past-year prevalence, nature of "worst" stressful experience ever experienced before the onset of PTSD, all traumatic experiences, symptom expression, psychiatric comorbidities, and mental health-related quality of life.

Methods: We analyzed Wave 2 data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, including adults with past-year diagnoses of PTSD (N = 1,715).

Results: The prevalence of past-year PTSD was significantly higher for young (4.3% [SE: 0.3]) and middle-aged (5.2% [SE: 0.2]) adults compared with older adults (2.6% [SE: 0.2]). Respondents in the three age groups differed with regard to their "worst" stressful experience ever experienced before the onset of PTSD and to all traumatic experiences. Older adults experienced significantly fewer traumatic experiences (mean: 5.2; SE: 0.2) compared with young (mean: 5.7; SE: 0.2) and middle-aged adults (mean: 6.4; SE: 0.1). Young and middle-aged adults had significantly greater symptom counts and greater odds of comorbid psychiatric disorders when compared with older adults. PTSD had similar effects on mental health-related quality of life across the adult lifespan.

Conclusion: Results highlight key differences in the characteristics of PTSD across the adult lifespan. The overall pattern of findings indicates that increasing age is associated with less severe PTSD profiles, including lower prevalence, fewer traumatic experiences, lower symptom counts, and lower odds of psychiatric comorbidity.

Keywords: Characteristics; Epidemiology; Lifespan; Older adults; PTSD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult